Music production is the process by which a record producer or music producer oversees the recording and production of a track, single, or record. … The music production process varies from band to band, but it always includes many of the same components. In some cases, music producers write material.
Below is our list for top 10 best DAWs out there. Take into consideration the level you’re currently at, where you plan on being for the future as well as the overall capabilities you’re looking for. Visit their website or the purchase link we provide for more information. We also tried to throw in the free trials and a few video overviews. We hope this guide has helped continue your music creation journey — keep the questions and comments coming at the end of the guide, we’ve really enjoyed the discussions throughout the years. If you’re looking for some smart device DAWs instead (some, but not many, home studio artists are starting to go with this route due to convenience, although we still don’t recommend it right now), check out our best music making apps article since we made a separate guide altogether for that subcategory (you’d be surprised at how many make tunes with smart devices now).
Operating system: Mac or Windows
Since it’s introduction in 1999, Ableton Live has been steadily growing as a very popular DAW and for good reason. We know we’ve gotten scrutiny for listing it first, and everybody is entitled to their opinions. However, we feel this is the best digital audio workstation for most of our readers. Here’s why (and just a few reasons, considering it would take days to explain the power of this) — you’ve got the standard multi-track recording (an unlimited number of audio/MIDI tracks for songs) and cut/paste/splice features, but what’s especially great about this software is the seamless MIDI sequencing software and hardware. We’ve had so many fusses with our MIDI controllers getting mapped to our sounds through the DAW (back when we used Acid Pro in 2005-2010), but ever since the switch to Ableton it’s been extremely headache-free. Another huge plus is the included sound packages included. Although this really depends on your preferences and whether or not you have your gear and sounds up to speed, it comes with 23 sound libraries (about 50 GB of sounds), so you can make music right out-of-the-box (great for starters). To finish off our description for the beloved Ableton, this thing is the absolute best music software for performing live with. We’ve experienced very few glitches (the biggest fear of performers…it can make or break a set). What’s even better is that Ableton has paired up with some brands to create gear specifically for the program, often matching interfaces with the software for easier pairing and remembering of sounds. Although this is an extremely simplified summary of the software, you can’t go wrong with Ableton Live, regardless of your “level” (how do you even categorize that?). We recommend trying it first to see what it’s all about — you then have two versions (intro for about a hundred bucks or standard for half a G — try intro first before you go all the way up).
Apple Logic Pro X
Operating system: Mac only
This is an amazing digital audio workstation, particularly for those with a Mac (not compatible with PC). What stands out with Logic Pro is the interface — very advanced to help with the music making process by including track consolidation (track stack), instrument layering, an intuitive mixer for plug-in control, and a “score editor” to allow you to create your own MIDI (comes with nine MIDI plug-ins that help you transform the sounds, such as chaining multiple plug-ins together, scale velocity, etc) tracks with only a mouse (most programs have this). It has a “virtual drummer” feature which features an interactive drum set for visual implementation of drums for some fun playing and natural sounding kits. Also has an arpeggiator that’s better than a lot of software out there — it’s programmable too. This thing is just jam-packed with features, synths, plug-ins, and not to mention a great interface for easy learning. Even if you’re a beginner, although not recommended, you can probably get away with using Logic — it’ll just take some time to learn it. Just remember, it’s worth sitting down for even a month or two to learn the basic ins and outs of this and you’re good to go for years. Logic Pro isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and their community is huge for any questions that may arise. Another plus is it comes with a sound library and loop collection with some pretty fresh out-of-the-box effects as well, so if you’re looking for some sounds for your controllers/pads this is a plus. It’s only usually priced around $200 retail, so it’s pretty easy on the wallet compared to others. Just remember this only works with Mac. It’s stated to give Pro Tools a run for their money — I’d recommend grabbing it if you’re just a step below Pro Tools and don’t want to spend the money or take months or gasp take a class to learn it. If you want an easier interface that’s geared more towards beginners, you can read further until you get to Garageband — Apple’s more simple digital audio workstation that’s free.
Avid Pro Tools
Operating system: Mac or Windows
What’s there to really say about Pro Tools by Avid? Or how about, what isn’t there to say? If you’re looking for the mixing and mastering industry standard (which is now debatable, I see from our comments over the past few years), this is the software to get. Ask any professional producer or sound engineer and they’ll say that anything else in the DAW world is just a waste of time. However, a lot of them say this after becoming certified in the program — as we stated before, there are entire school programs dedicated to Pro Tools. If we really wanted to describe this software to you it would take us 100 articles, but here’s a bit of a breakdown: It gives you the standard ability to compose, record, mix, edit, master, etc. What’s advanced is it has its own Avid Audio Engine which gives you a super fast processor, a 64-bit memory capacity for sessions (never lag, freeze, etc), its own latency input buffer to help with that annoying delay, and built-in metering. Change the tempo with time-stretch of any track, and there’s something called Elastic Pitch that’s a bit like autotune in the sense of ‘correcting’ harmonies. Also comes with 70 effects and plug-ins: reverb, compressors, EQ’s, channel stripping, the works — merely anything you can think of, Pro Tools has. I can’t even begin to list everything it can do. We also know some pro musicians who use Pro Tools only for mixing and mastering and having an additional DAW to make their music from scratch. It’s compatible with both Mac and PC, although with Mac it works a bit better (was originally created strictly for this). Please note that we’ve heard a lot of reviews out there state that it’s very buggy on Windows, so use with caution. If you go big with Pro Tools, you’re set for life. Just know it takes hours, days, weeks or even months of learning it. But once you do, it’s not only the best music-making decision for you, but perhaps a future career prospect as well. We’re not sure if it’ll ever go away.
Operating system: Mac and Windows
Reaper by Cockos is one of the most complex digital audio workstations out there but the power this thing can give you if you take the time to learn it is unmatched. If you want to try it out, you can download the software and get it for 60 days and then have to pay to download a license to keep it going. We feel this is a great strategy for both the brand and user since it allows us to try it out for an adequate amount of time without having to drop some dough. Reaper is pretty unique when it comes to comparing to other DAWs out there. It’s coded by a smaller group of individuals aimed to give us the mere essentials of a DAW without a bunch of features we probably we won’t ever use. You can drag and drop your VST’s and FX, map your MIDI controllers seamlessly, cut, paste, split and edit individual tracks, plug-in support for a majority of creators. This is basically an open-source, nitty-gritty software.
It supports most audio interfaces, plug-ins and effects. When downloading Reaper, you really have nothing to lose since you get to try it for 60 days before buying. If you’re shopping around and serious about your research, we say to give it a go since you get 60 days of full usage for free. Who knows? It may be the DAW for you, or perhaps some software to add to your toolbox when it comes to finalizing tracks after you complete the recording process (many popular producers do this
Operating system: Mac and Windows
Reason by Propellerhead is slightly less known in the music software community, but is one of the most stable as far as we’ve learned. Pretty nifty since you can drag and drop among the interface (such as synth patches and effects straight into the sequencer), has a relatively fast system as many have stated, and most importantly, the workflow is exceptional for those within the middle to semi-pro range. It’s not too complex but not that simple either — in our opinion right in the middle. However, I’ve heard that some of the plug-ins offered by Reason are a bit out-of-date as compared to other DAW like Fruity Loops. Reason has a very solid mixing console, better than a lot out there besides Pro Tools or Logic. This is also a great DAW for those recording guitar or bass since it includes amp and speaker plug- ins from Softube. These are nice for adding effects and presets to your riffs and it works well with both PC and Mac. What’s pretty nifty is the software’s ability to cut and splice audio files automatically…although I’m a bit tedious when it comes to this, it’s nice to get those files chopped before you start digging in. Pretty accurate most of the time but others I have to clean them up a bit…ultimately it doesn’t hurt. Lastly and just for some more FYI, it supports all MIDI hardware so you’re pretty good to go in terms of essential features within a workstation. Nothing too huge like Pro Tools in a sense of mastering or more advanced effects features, but for half a grand retail, Reason is really giving other DAW a run for their money.
Operating system: Windows only
This is one of the best DAWs for those looking to start out and get their feet wet in the music making world. FL Studio by Image-Line has been out and about for quite some time, being one of the most popular software to date. It’s got your standard protocol with pitch shifting, correction, time-stretch, cut, paste and the works, but it’s interface is especially well-suited for the beginner. It’ll take a little bit of reading to start going, but once you’ve got the hang of it you’re good to go. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there dating back to 2005 giving tutorials for pretty much any feature you need explained. Their latest version includes over 30 synth software for out-the-box usage, so if you’ve just purchased a controller and want some sounds to start fiddling with you don’t have to spend much money. You can use MIDI keyboards, record into it with a microphone, do your standard editing and mixing — it just gives you what you essentially need in music software with a simple interface. There are some advanced features as well, so once you become familiar with it you can delve further into these to attain a solid learning curve for the future, too. It’s very user-friendly, especially with adding some virtual instruments and playing them on MIDI. Another perk is it works great with PC or Mac. The retail price is also a lot lower than others out there, so it’s definitely budget- friendly. We’d recommend getting this if it’s for somebody younger as well. What made this program famous in our opinion and still does is the fact that 9th wonder uses FL Studio today (if anybody is a fan like us).
Operating system: Mac only
Garageband by Apple is an extremely popular DAW, especially among beginners. Extremely suitable for those in the starting stages of music, particularly younger ones or those who merely want to lay down some tracks and make some cool tunes. However, I have some friends who tour nation-wide that still use Garageband just because of its simplicity and ease of use for recording. We’d go with this over Fruity Loops in terms of starting from scratch as your first DAW if you’re on a Mac. What’s also special about this software is its got the very user-friendly interface that helps you visualize what you’re making — keyboard, synths, and percussion. It offers some pretty solid presets for vocal and guitar recording as well, although nothing too out of the ordinary. It does have a few good amps and effects for the guitar or mic. As a cool little additive, if you’re looking to learn how to play piano, it’s got a nice built-in lesson function for both piano as well as guitar. It maps out the chords and explains what they are to help you get a better understanding of music theory. It supports your standard USB keyboard and gives you some loops built-in to mess around with (you can buy more through their app store), and there’s something called “Smart Controls” which is basically an interactive control of plug-ins — knobs, buttons, sliders, etc with images to really visualize what you’re doing behind the scenes. Just an overall solid digital audio workstation for beginners, especially because it’s free. The way they monetize off of the software is basically purchases for more plug-ins, effects, and others; however, you can get away with what it comes with. A nice little touch is it’s compatibility with iPads if that’s what you’re looking for, a trend we’ve seen increase lately.
You’d be surprised at how many people use Cubase music software. Steinberg has their signature key, score and drum editors included in the workstation. The Key Editor lets you manually edit your MIDI track in case you need move a note over here and there. You get your unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, reverb effects, incorporated VST’s, etc. Although it’s seen as a bit of a trend from these DAWs, ultimately trying to separate themselves from the competition, Cubase has one of the biggest sound libraries that come with the box. You’ve got something called the HALion Sonic SE 2 with a bunch of synth sounds, Groove Agent SE 4 with 30 drum kits, EMD construction kits, LoopMash FX, etc. Some of the most powerful plug-ins within a DAW. We recommend going with Cubase if that’s what you’re particularly looking for. Some just say that it’s a bit expensive and very hard to learn — but as stated previously, once you learn it, you’re good to go for a very long time. I’d recommend going with Pro Tools or even Logic Pro if you’re going to be spending a lot of time learning a software, you might as well make it one of the more popular ones. If you buy it from Amazon you already get the eLicenser. It’s around $400 retail. Watch the videos on the Steinberg website to see what’s new in the latest version.
Operating system: Mac or Windows
Here we have a very stable music software by a brand we love, PreSonus. They include Studio One DAW in a lot of their products, such as their AudioBox iTwo audio interface we recently reviewed This isn’t just a little add-on to products, however — It’s a full on standalone workstation giving you drag-and-drop functionality, unlimited tracks, MIDI, VST, buses and FX channels, as well as mastering integration (not necessarily on Pro Tools level), a Melodyne feature, and some nice reverb effects that sound very smooth (some of the best reverb some have heard). It’s stated to be a bit easier in terms of workflow as compared to more popular DAWs, such as Logic needing a few more extra steps to achieve a certain function you need. The interface isn’t that impressive in terms of aesthetics but I’d take workflow over looks any day — pretty standard. The 64-bit sound engine gives you studio-quality recordings. It basically has all of the essentials and we see it competing against a lot of the other more known DAWs out there. It’ll take a bit to learn the mastering tools but if you need a software for that this can get you by if you are trying to avoid Pro Tools. It’s compatible with both Mac and Windows and starts around $400 retail. Check out their nice little package called the PreSonus AudioBox Studio which gives you Studio One (Artist version, not Pro), headphones, a mic, audio interface, and necessary cables. Otherwise, go with something more popular.
Operating system: Windows only
Last but not least, this thing will always be our baby. When I first started making music in 2001, I had an old version of Acid Pro when it was still made by Sonic Foundry. I got so accustomed to it I continued to use Acid Pro 4.0 until early 2010 when I finally made my switch to Ableton. There were pros and cons for sticking with the software for so long, one pro mainly being that I knew it like the back of my hand. If my friends were ever over making music and wanted something done, I could merely press a hot-key and had it complete, getting some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here and there. The downside was that it was a bit buggy when it came to MIDI incorporation and other more-advanced features that are available with DAWs nowadays. Their latest version is actually very stable and we recommend this for beginners until even semi-pro like we were for the past decade.
Acid Pro (now owned by Magix) just does what you want in an essential-based manner. There’s the recording ability, loop audio tracks, and MIDI support. It’s got a pretty solid sound series loops (3,000 sounds) and comes with about 90 VST’s to mess around with using your MIDI controller. The time-stretch works pretty well too, something I’ve used quite a lot if I need to slow down or speed up a sample or track I’ve recorded. It’s downloadable and very cheap, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly DAW and one that has been around for decades — this is it.
Operating system: Windows or Mac
You’d be surprised at how many people use Cubase music software. Steinberg has their signature key, score and drum editors included in the workstation. The Key Editor lets you manually edit your MIDI track in case you need move a note over here and there. You get your unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, reverb effects, incorporated VST’s, etc. Although it’s seen as a bit of a trend from these DAWs, ultimately trying to separate themselves from the competition, Cubase has one of the biggest sound libraries that come with the box. You’ve got something called the HALion Sonic SE 2 with a bunch of synth sounds, Groove Agent SE 4 with 30 drum kits, EMD construction kits, LoopMash FX, etc. Some of the most powerful plug-ins within a DAW. We recommend going with Cubase if that’s what you’re particularly looking for.
Some just say that it’s a bit expensive and very hard to learn — but as stated previously, once you learn it, you’re good to go for a very long time. I’d recommend going with Pro Tools or even Logic Pro if you’re going to be spending a lot of time learning a software, you might as well make it one of the more popular ones. If you buy it from Amazon you already get the eLicenser. It’s around $400 retail. Watch the videos on the Steinberg website to see what’s new in the latest version.